Metrorail has had a huge impact on the region, but as we’ve seen with the Silver Line, it can take decades to get from concept to execution.
One of the questions I hear most often as a planner for Metro is When will a Metro station open in xyz neighborhood, “in Georgetown”, or “at BWI”? It was the first question at the March Citizens Association of Georgetown meeting. My response — “Decades” — often elicits audible groans.
Given last summer’s opening of the Silver Line, we have a case study that can provide insight on how long it takes to plan, fund, and construct large infrastructure projects. The Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project has done a phenomenal job of maintaining a project timeline. Since the region has many recent newcomers, it is helpful to revisit many of the key milestones, as shown below. It is also helpful to remind readers that the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) was the ultimate developer of the Silver Line (both Phases I and II) and that the project “only” required cooperation among the Commonwealth of Virginia, MWAA, Metro, the federal government, and Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. While just one example, the Silver Line’s long story is not vastly different from other mega-projects happening in the region and across the country.
Timeline for Planning, Environmental Process, Legal and Financing, and Constructing the Silver Line
Metro is re-imagining the region’s bus network to improve travel times, enhance connectivity, and deliver service cost-effectively.
Over the past year, as part of the Metrobus Network Effectiveness Study, Metro began exploring potential future Metrobus restructuring scenarios based on the region’s growth trajectory over the next two decades. The scenarios also reflect the market segments where Metrobus can be more effective — places like the urban core, activity centers, and major arterial streets. Planners took the Metrobus network in the region’s Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP) for 2030 as the basis of comparison and formulated several network restructuring alternatives. This post will introduce the alternative networks, while future posts will present the performance of the networks, as well as a completely new proposed network built from the ground up. The flow chart below illustrates the network alternatives, followed by a brief explanation about each alternative.
The majority of late night bus boardings are in DC, focused along the 14th/16th Streets NW corridor.
As we’ve mentioned before, Metro is conducting a study examining late night bus service in the region. An initial step was to assess where the late night boardings are happening in order to determine which might be the best locations to focus in-person survey efforts. Below is a map showing the locations of the top 100 locations where riders board Metrobus from 11pm-4am each night. Rather than reflecting the total ridership of a stop, the magnitude of the circles on the map reflect that location’s share of overall late night bus ridership.
Top 100 Late Night Metrobus Boarding Locations*
Some notes on the map:
- Almost all of the major bus boarding locations (those with more than 1% of the total) are at Metrorail Stations, even though Metrorail stops operating just one hour into the late night period on weeknights.
- Not surprisingly, most of the boardings are in DC, many of which are concentrated in the 16th/14th St NW corridor from downtown to Columbia Heights.
- The data only reflect Metrobus boardings, so if boardings on local operators such as DC Circulator are added, the total numbers of late night bus boardings would be higher than what is shown here.
- Of course this only tells us where the riders are boarding, not necessarily where they’re going; we are investigating that as part of the study.
What do you see that stands out?
* Note that Southern Avenue Metro Station replaced 14th & U Street as an in-person rider survey location.
Despite having two million fewer people, our region used to have 60 miles of bus lanes. It’s time to revive them.
Bus Lane on 14th Street next to the National Mall in the early 1970s
Did We Really Have That Many Bus Lanes?
Yes. In the 1960s and 70s before Metrorail was built, Washington and its surrounding inner suburbs relied heavily on its bus system to get around, with very frequent service on a number of major streets. According to our records (linked at the bottom of this post), the first bus-only lane was installed in 1962 on 16th Street NW in DC, generally between H Street NW and Florida Avenue NW [DDOT Fact Sheet, p. 6]. This was followed by dozens of miles of rush-hour and full-time installations, as shown in the map and table below. Streets in red indicate bus lanes that were implemented as of 1976, while streets in black and blue represent bus lanes that were planned but, to our knowledge, never put in place.
“If I’m a Blue Line rider in Virginia, what are my bus options once the Silver Line opens?”
The 16Y to McPherson Sq.
We get asked this question quite a bit, and even more so now that the opening of the Silver Line is rapidly approaching. As we have written about extensively on PlanItMetro, the start of service on the Silver Line will mean a reduction in the frequency of rush hour Blue Line trains. Average headways will increase from 8.5 minutes to 12 minutes. For most riders, once they arrive at a Blue Line platform their quickest ride will still be via train (even with an additional few minute wait), but there are numerous options for riders looking to switch from rail to bus or new riders looking to commute via bus.
Here are some of your best bus options if you are a Blue Line rider going to, or coming from:
- 7Y: Southern Towers to downtown DC. Beginning August 24, the 7Y will be rerouted to pass within walking distance of these Blue Line stations:
- Arlington Cemetery
- Pentagon City (2 blocks)
- Crystal City (2 blocks)
- Farragut West
- McPherson Square Read more…
Metro will soon be measuring how much growth happens in places that are walkable to transit. Here’s an in-depth look at how we define “walkable” to Metrorail stations and Metrobus stops.
Areas reachable on foot from regional Metrobus stops and Metrorail stations
Metro’s new Connecting Communities metric will measure annual household growth in our region that occurs within the “transit shed” – the catchment area around transit service that generates walk ridership. And improving walkability can be an incredibly cost-effective way to reduce congestion and increase transit ridership. Let’s take a closer look at how we defined what’s “walkable to transit.”
How Far is Walkable? First, we defined walking distance as a half-mile from Metrorail, and a quarter-mile from Metrobus, for a number of reasons:
- Of all the passengers who walk to Metrorail each morning, the median walking distance is just under a half-mile (0.35 miles, actually). Riders walk farther to some stations than others, but the systemwide average is just shy of a half-mile. Since rail riders are on average willing to walk a little under a half-mile today, it is reasonable to use a half-mile as an upper limit for walking in the future. (We don’t have similar survey data on Metrobus - yet.)
- The land use within a quarter- and half-mile is where we see the strongest effects on ridership on Metro today. More on this below.
- Academic literature supports the half-mile radius from rail transit as no better than any other distance, particularly for the link between households and ridership.
- Practically, setting the distance any farther than 0.50 and 0.25 miles increases overlap with other nearby stations and bus stops, which increases computational complexity. Read more…
Customers boarding the 23A at Ballston
The distance between stops is of key concern to Metro and its customers. More closely spaced stops provide customers with more convenient access, as they are likely to experience a shorter walk to the nearest bus stop. However, closely-spaced stops are also likely to result in a longer ride for customers because of the number of times the bus stops — to decelerate, come to a complete stop and then accelerate and re-merge into traffic — is increased. This also can lead to increased fuel and maintenance costs.
Having fewer stops along a bus route benefits passengers not only by reducing the time it takes for them to make their trip, but by making the service more reliable and predictable.
The region either already has or is planning for a variety of different modes. How do they compare? The Silver Line will soon open as a Metrorail line. Later this year, a streetcar will be operating on H Street, NE with others planned for Columbia Pike in Arlington and the District. Arlington and Alexandria are jointly building a bus rapid transit (BRT) line between Crystal City and Potomac Yard. Once funding is finalized, Maryland will build the Purple Line and light rail transit (LRT) will connect New Carrollton and Bethesda. This is all in addition to the region’s existing commuter rail, commuter bus, Metrorail, Metrobus, and MetroExtra services. The region is not only expanding transit services, but it also expanding the types of transit modes that will operate. At long last, instead of talking about Portland (streetcar), Jersey City (light rail), or Cleveland (bus rapid transit), we’ll be able to point directly to services and infrastructure in our backyard or take a trip and experience the pros and cons of these modes for ourselves.
So how do the different modes compare? What kind of purposes does each serve? There are many external factors and trade-offs that influence how agencies and jurisdictions select which mode to implement. As we see from the ongoing debates in jurisdictions across the region between LRT and BRT or streetcar and enhanced bus, there is not always one perfect choice. However, an array of transit and land use measures can provide context to the conversation. As part of ConnectGreaterWashington: The 2040 Regional Transit System Plan, we developed the below table to compare commuter rail, commuter bus, heavy rail, light rail, streetcar, bus rapid transit, and enhanced bus across land use intensity (households and employment), vehicle capacity, stop spacing, trip length, and capital and operating costs.
What do you think? Does this information better inform the rail vs bus debate? What other information would provide more clarity on what modes work where?
Comparison of High-Capacity Transit Modes
Bike to Work Day is Friday, May 16th, and this year Metro is hosting three pitstops at Metrorail stations. Bike to Metro and Metro to Work! Register now.
If biking all the way to work sounds a bit daunting this year, Bike to Metro and Metro to Work! Leave your bike at a Metrorail station or a bus stop.
Metro is hosting three pitstops at Metrorail stations, where we’ll be distributing t-shirts, maps, information about parking your bike, bikes on bus, locker rentals, and of course – free goodies. In addition, Metro Transit Police will be at all three pitstops distributing free U-locks to cyclists who register their bikes. We’ll even have a “bike rack demonstration” bus so you can try using the bike rack on buses.
Register now at www.biketoworkmetrodc.org, and enter your pitstop as one of the stations above!
Bus Wash Montgomery Division
Fresh water is a precious resource and Metro is doing its part to reduce strain on shared natural resources and infrastructure. The Authority uses water for a whole host of activities beyond drinking and flushing. Water is used to maintain our facilities, keep stations cool, to wash buses and trains, and to clean vehicle parts. To give Metro’s water use some sense of scale, in 2013 the Authority used 98 million gallons of water, or the equivalent of 148 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Metro has already made significant investments to conserve water throughout the Authority. For example, all of Metro’s new and renovated bus garages feature bus wash systems that incorporate high efficiency water saving equipment. Wash water is no longer just fed from the utility and mixed with detergents. Instead, during the wash cycle the mix is drained off, transferred to large sumps and then pumped through reclaiming modules of gratings and filters that clean the water that is then reused in the following wash cycles. The bus wash system automatically calibrates not only water usage but detergent application amounts; saving on detergent use as well. The use of high efficient bus wash systems reduces the amount of potable water Metro uses and the amount of wastewater Metro generates.
Also, all new Metro facility construction and major retrofits are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified and feature low-flow water fixture upgrades. Low-flow fixtures use high pressure and aeration to produce an acceptable flow without using as much water.
Future facilities, including Metro’s Cinder Bed Road Bus Operations and Maintenance Facility – anticipated to be completed in 2016 – will be designed to LEED specifications and will feature many of the sustainable design features including the efficient bus wash system and low-flow fixtures.
To expand water conservation in the future the Authority has set a target to reduce our potable water use per vehicle mile by 20% by 2025.
This post forms part of a series featuring content from Metro’s Sustainability Agenda, part of Metro’s Sustainability Initiative.